Saturday, July 17, 2010

Part 3 - 10 Things I wish I'd Known

Continued from part 2 with boxed text by Charles Noble, additional text and illustrations by Jen Cluff.

Charles Noble, Associate Principal Viola in the Oregon Symphony, has a very interesting blog about local musical life called The Noble Viola.
A few months ago he was asked by the Portland Youth Orchestra to write something for their on-line newsletter that he wanted to pass on to young musicians.
He put out a call on his blog for musicians to send in their suggestions of Things They Wished They Had Known as a Young Musicians. He consolidated, edited, and reworded them for 10 Things I wish I'd known as a Young Musican.

Part 3 - 10 Things I wish I'd known as a Young Musician.

7. Choose aspiration over competition. It’s easy to be competitive - sometimes it’s even fun - but it can go too far. It’s easy to let it go to the dark side. Resist that temptation. You want to play more notes faster than the other guy. Louder. Higher. Whatever. Instead trying to tear someone down, look at what it is that they do that you like, and try to figure out how to integrate it into your own playing. Listen to recordings of the great players or singers and try to figure out what they do that makes them unique. YouTube is a boon, because there are all sorts of videos of artists new and old, and it is very possible to learn a lot from viewing them. Good teachers take the time to point out great players that can be learned from, and often will loan a student recordings or videos, or even have their studio watch or listen to them as a group. The main point is, make your quest to be better a positive thing. There will always be someone better than you, and always someone less good, and it’s something you should always keep in mind.

Jen adds: If you research the nature of humans and animals, competition is hard-wired into our biology. You can only put it to creative use and redirect the urge to compete and win so that you foster good relations with your teachers, peers, and fellow musicians. Good relationships are 50% of the "luck" that you need to do well in the music world. The other 50% is hard work on honing your skills. So only compete against yourself, and give a sunny smile to all fellow musicians. You're much smarter this way. If you're really revved up to compete, you can do so in the privacy of your own practice space: record yourself practicing and performing and compare these recordings to professional recordings, if you really want to hone in on your skills quickly. Youtube, a free recording program called Audacity, and a mini-disc or mp3 recorder are all you need to cut and splice together your home recordings and professional recordings. This is a very intelligent way to work, and so fun to get the competitive urge and do something CREATIVE with it!

8. Diversify: learn about other art forms. When I was in high school and college I was always interested in lots of stuff other than music. I built models, took photographs, rode my bike, read tons of books. Aside from the outside activities, it’s also very valuable to learn about the other fine arts from the time periods of the music that you’re working on. When I was in undergrad at the University of Puget Sound, there was a lot of coursework outside of the music program, and writing was stressed through the entire curriculum. My final senior paper was about Schoenberg and the Blaue Reiter Almanach, which took an entire semester to research and write, and coincided with a chamber group of mine doing Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night. I found that being exposed to the entirety of what Schoenberg’s great artistic school was up to at that time very helpful in trying to figure out how to present the piece. When listening to lieder, for example, you might want to read more of the poetry by the poet whose words are set by the composer. Or you might want to take in a play related to a work you’re performing, or that’s contemporaneous to the work you’re studying. Music doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s part of a greater artistic and social movement, and so too should you.

Jen adds: If you live a little, if you travel, if you get out of your home town and learn about the big world that's out there, you bring the life-stories and accompaning deepening of your world view back to your music making. If you dance, if you sing, if you act, if you sculpt, paint or write, you bring the depth of character and your own ability to express your stories to an audience back to your music. I once heard of a little turn-of-the-century book by a Singer named Yvette Gilbert who'd written a manual on how to convey a profound message and all human emotion through singing. Gilbert wrote a five page RANT of the most beautiful quality about how singers need to "get out there and live life; visit museums, art galleries, gather in groups along the Seine; drink coffee in cafes, listen to poetry, dance, hike, run, sleep, and fall in love with the landscapes by rivers and mountains...." ...all incredibly healthy advice.
It cracked me up (seriously up) that even in 1898 Gilbert is "tired of wan-faced singing students who only lurk in practice rooms, and coddle their voices, and never live life, as when they do finally sing, they have nothing to say!"
This is still true today.
You have to live life richly in order to convey a life's riches to an audience.
Getting involved in all the arts is one of the best ways to do this when you're at school and beyond. (Note: I'll try and dig up those Gilbert quotes. Hilarious and rich! I typed them out at the time, because the little hardcover book had to go back to interlibrary loan, and it was rare and fragile).

9. Learn the business of music. This can never begin too early. If you do wedding or occasional gigs, learn to draft a contract to cover the eventualities of things going awry. The musical portion of an event is often the last to be hired, and there is almost never time to get things staked out much in advance. In addition, learn how to write a good, attractive resume. Make sure that you know how to use online social media to your advantage: put up videos of your playing on YouTube (but only if it’s really good), set up a fan page on Facebook with photos and audio files, and set up a Twitter account related to your performing activities. The possibilities are virtually limitless, and as the generation that is the first to be fully immersed in these new media formats, you have the power to make them work for you. This is such an important arena that such formerly conservative institutions as Juilliard, Curtis and Eastman are adding curricula that address self-promotion and survival in this new media landscape.

Jen adds: I'm not much of a business person, but I've learned one thing:

David Cutler's book "The Savvy Musician" is the one book you absolutely MUST read if you're going to do anything in the music business in 2010.
Fabulous, outstanding, brilliant. The Savvy Musican Blog is great to.
Run don't walk, and get ahold of this book!

10. Love what you do - and remember to nurture that love. When you’re young and just finding your way, your relationship with music is passionate and full of zest and ardor. Over time, setbacks and the less positive side of the business (and it is, ultimately, a business built on an art form) can make one become lazy, jaded, and cynical. It’s easy to forget that you used to love the Beethoven Fifth Symphony after you’ve played it a dozen times or more. That’s why it’s so important to nurture the basic love for music and performing that you have right now. Spend time regularly investing in that initial stock of love that you have for music, and it will sustain you over the long haul.

Written by: Charles Noble, Oregon Symphony Assistant Principal viola. Charles Noble keeps his own blog rolling at: Check there for interesting insights into the Oregon Symphony, the orchestral world at large and the life of a professional musician.

Jen adds: Luckily, I cannot stop loving music making. So this last one is just a reminder to talk to other optimistic, kind and loving musicians if ever you feel the need to re-discover your love of music.
Loneliness in the practice room (for decades at a time----dear me.....oh doh!) is common, and all you have to do is reach out; form a chamber group, a duo, and play with friends.
Keep exploring, keep the love alive.
Music is our souls singing to eachother. Let them sing on!!

I hope you enjoyed these items and the pictures.
If so, just comment using the comment button below, and add your own stories.
I love this topic!!


Return to read Part 1 and 2 of 10 Things I wish I'd Known as a Young Musician:

part 1

part 2